May 18, 2022
Study: Competitiveness, Characteristics Predict Athlete’s Level of Sports Specialization

Sport specialization has been associated with increased injury and negative psychosocial effects on young athletes. With the continuing trend toward this route, studies have begun to examine what motivates this decision.

According to published results in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine, athletes who display argumentative contrarian characteristics may be predisposed to lower levels of sports specialization, while athletes who enjoy competition may exhibit higher levels.

specializationThis study examined the role of athlete competitiveness (enjoyment of competition and competitive contentiousness) as a characteristic associated with the propensity to specialize in the United States. It is hypothesized that, at the high school level, athletes would be more likely to engage in sport specialization owing to the enjoyment of competition versus competitive contentiousness.

To examine the role of athlete competitiveness as a characteristic associated with the propensity to specialize in sports, Dee Warmath, Ph.D., and colleagues performed an online survey of 975 high school athletes in the United States. Outcome measures included previously sport-specialization categorization (low, medium, or high), the Revised Competitiveness Index, which quantifies enjoyment of competition and competitive contentiousness, athlete characteristics, total sports played, level of competition, and plans to play sports in college.

Overall, 22.4% of the athletes (n = 218) exhibited high levels of specialization; 34.8% (n = 339) exhibited medium levels of specialization; and 42.9% (n = 418) exhibited low levels of specialization. Researchers found athletes who planned to play a sport in college were “significantly more likely” to have a high level of specialization. They also noted athletes who enjoyed competition were more likely to have high specialization levels, while athletes who displayed competitive contentiousness and argumentative contrarian personality traits were associated with lower levels of specialization.

» ALSO SEE: University of Leeds Study Heart Health in Endurance Athletes

“Viewed through the lens of these findings, sport specialization appears to be the outcome of desirable characteristics, such as sportsmanship, cooperation, and self-esteem,” the researchers wrote in the study. “This view is consistent with findings regarding the importance of intrinsic or autonomous reasons for specializing, as well as early studies of specialization. However, it stands in contrast with studies highlighting the negative outcomes of specialization,” they added.

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